The partial government shutdown, which was the longest in American history, had wide-ranging, unintended consequences for people across the country. One of the groups that suffered the most during the shutdown were regular, legal immigrants simply attempting to renew their status to continue working.

To understand the full scope of the problems that arose for immigrants it is important to look at the state of things before. We have written previously about rising numbers of employment-based immigration denials, but this was only one piece of the overall puzzle.

Extended court backlogs

As the New York Times reports, there was a large backlog of cases on the dockets of federal immigration judges. These backlogs are nothing new since the wheels of immigration tend to move slowly, but recently they have gotten longer. As it stands there are over 800,000 cases in the immigration docket, while many are deportation cases, that is not all that they hear.

These courts make decisions every day that affect so many people’s lives. If a standard petition gets denied and must be appealed a new court date must be set. But when the government shut down, funding for these courts was halted and many of these judges were furloughed and the scheduled hearings and trials were delayed.

What happens with the line?

Those delays had a worsening effect. These cases do need to be heard, but do they go to the end of the line? Does the court push the entire line back? What would be most fair for those who need to get their cases heard?

The answer is not as simple as it seems. Scheduling conflicts for judges, lawyers and immigrants can easily extend into months. Furthermore, there are people living in extreme hardship who cannot simply “wait longer” for a new date.

What could happen?

When the partial shutdown ended on January 25th, there was relief for these problems, but not resolution. It will take more time to fully resolve these issues, and even though it looks like the government will remain open for the foreseeable future, that is no guarantee that future legislative disputes won’t cause disruption for legal residents simply trying to live their lives.